‘Obsessed with fungi’: how Wenvoe Wildlife Group fell in love with fungus photography
In a small rural community in South Glamorgan, a passion for mushrooms, lichens and moulds has taken hold. We spoke to Bruce McDonald, the project lead for the Grow Wild-funded Wenvoe Wildlife Group, to find out about how this enthusiasm translated to a photography competition and to better awareness about the elusive fungi kingdom.
NB: All of these pictures are from the competition, and we had a hard enough time picking which to include this blog as it was! If you want to see the rest of the excellent entries, head to Wenvoe Wildlife Group's Facebook page.
Q. Who are Wenvoe Wildlife Group and what do you do?
We run environmental projects and focus on wildlife issues in the local area – although the population of the parish is small, our geographical area is relatively large with a mixture of natural habitats, woodlands, housing developments and farms.
Since we’ve been active, we’ve created and maintained biodiverse habitats including a wildflower meadow, five traditional orchards and some watercress beds. We also plant wildflower areas, specifically to benefit pollinators, and run nature trails and walks for local schools and the community. All in all, there's about 45 of us!
Q. How did you come up with the idea to stage a photography competition?
We have used photography competitions in the past to engage the community in wildlife issues and to obtain a collection of photographs to use for our future projects. On this occasion, we wanted to combine photography with other art forms, so participants could respond to the theme of fungi in any way they wanted. We also designed colouring-in sheets so that even the youngest children could participate.
Q. What did you want to get out of it?
Fungi aren’t necessarily the first things people consider when they’re thinking about nature, so we wanted to increase awareness amongst our members, as well as people we communicate with on social media. We wanted them to do something active, rather than just read about the topic, and hopefully learn something new and have a deeper appreciation and understanding of fungi.
Q. What did you learn from running the project?
There was a larger-than-expected age range involved, with the photography element broadly appealing to adults and art-work and colouring to the children. We had a lot of photography entries from all over – presumably because social media gave entrants an easy way to submit their pictures and we could also display the entries as they came in - that helped to keep levels of interest in the competition alive. Because we used an independent judge to decide on the winners, they were able to provide feedback and teach entrants aspects of composition and technical photography that we hadn’t considered in as much detail at the start of the project. I was also surprised that some of my personal favourite entries weren’t chosen by the judge!
This project has meant that far more people in our community have now taken an interest in fungi, and are hungry to learn even more about the kingdom. One entrant even commented that he has become ‘obsessed with fungi’ and now has a tendency to look for potential snapshot subjects when out and about.
Q. Did you learn anything new about fungi?
Considering the responses of everyone who took part, I think it’s safe to say that they now know more about what fungi actually are, and what value they might have to society.
We’ve all learned to recognise some individual species (for example, children at the primary school were all able to label their entries), and I think that as a result of the competition there’s now more people that understand that fungi are much more than the fruiting body on the surface – and that there’s actually a whole network of life hidden underground!